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[writing] Update on goals and activity

Back in January, I posted my year’s writing goals [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ].

Here’s what I said about June and July:

June, 2012 — Initial revisions to Their Currents Turn Awry, release to my first readers.
July, 2012 — Take a break from Sunspin, pursue short fiction commitments.

In practice, what I did was reverse these two. I finished the first draft of Currents in mid-May, and decided to take my break in June rather than bulling into initial revisions. Then I spent a bunch of time on Going to Extremes and some other work. I still owe a couple of short stories this month.

However, next month I will not immediately start the Currents revisions.

Had a long talk with my agent yesterday about the state of the market, my books and my career. Because the sales process is ongoing, I won’t comment on how Sunspin is doing out there in the market. Suffice to say that with the overall issues in publishing, we’re looking for diversification.

This is actually a long-standing strategy of ours rather than a change in direction. One piece of that is already in play; the Little Dog collaborative project with urban fantasy author J.A. Pitts. That should be happening mostly over the summer. So is another element; Going to Extremes, the Antarctica/cancer book. The Waterloo Productions feature-length documentary project about me is tied into Extremes as well. I plan to have the finalized version of the book proposal off to my agent by Friday of this week, so we can hopefully go to market quite soon.

Where the change in direction occurs is that we’ve added two more elements, one of which will slide into my schedule prior to the restart on Currents. One is that I’ll be revising for market a YA science fiction novel I wrote a few years ago called Other Me. (Think Philip K. Dick identity paranoia for kids.) It got shelved simply because I was very busy at the time, and I’ve always had something else to do. Now I’m going to take a few weeks or a month to work through Other Me with a strong revision pass.

The other new element is an illustrated novelty book of sex humor. I now have a very good artist lined up, and will be developing the project over the summer with a probable deliverable next fall, depending on the art schedule. Still in discussions with my agent about whether this is an independent press project or a trade press project, though she is potentially interested in repping it to the trade press. I’m not going to say more about the project right now, because I want to see how it gels before discussing further detail in public.

There are also plans in the wind for some Web series scripting, along with the usual array of short story ideas and opportunities.

Sometimes I think there’s not enough going on in my writing life. Apparently, I am an idiot.

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[writing] Another small milestone on Their Currents Turn Awry

Yesterday I finished the latest chunk of Their Currents Turn Awry, Sunspin volume 2. The manuscript now stands at 119,200 words, and I figure on adding about 30,000 more words with the last chunk. I’m definitely wrestling with some plot timing and sequencing issues, but that’s absolutely a problem for revision. I am also emerging from the natural self-doubt of the eternal muddle in the middle, at least for this book.

It’s nice to see it flowing. I expect 10-12 more days of writing time before I’m done with this draft altogether. It’s a first draft, of course, so this won’t be going out to first readers or anyone else (unless someone really insists, I suppose). Rather, it will be going into the drawer until about August. I have other fish to fry in the mean time, including working on the Going to Extremes proposal and possibly first draft, Kalimpura copy edits, a rewrite on Little Dog: Son of a Bitch once [info]bravado111 has drafted it, some short fiction projects including at least one novella, and maybe a run at the first part of The Whips and Scorns of Time, Sunspin volume 3.

Plus some other cool stuff in the works which I can’t quite talk about yet. But trust me, it’s cool.

Busy, busy.

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[process] Analyzing the writing of Calamity of So Long a Life

As I mentioned over the weekend, Calamity of So Long a Life is finally off my desk and out into the world. More about that when there’s more to report.

Now that I’m embarking on Their Currents Turn Awry, this seems like a good time to review what I’ve done with Calamity. Checking my production information, I find the following:

150.0 hours of writing (includes the synopsis, and about 65,000 words of Currents)
90.25 hours of revision
240.25 hours total

If I fudge out 32.5 hours for the work that has turned into the first part of Their Currents Turn Awry, using an assumed base production rate of 2,000 words per hour, that still leaves me with the following:

117.5 hours of writing time (includes the synopsis)
90.25 hours of revision
207.75 hours total

I can further fudge out 75.5 hours for the work on drafting Calamity of So Long a Life, in order to break out the outlining process from the drafting process, I get the following:

42.0 hours of writing time (outline)
75.5 hours of writing time (first draft)
90.25 hours of revision
207.75 hours total

In effect, I wrote the first draft of Calamity of So Long a Life at roughly the same clip I’ve been drafting for a long while, since I deliberately applied the brakes to slow myself down. As I have discussed a number of occasions, that’s 1,800 words an hour, with bursts up to 2,500 words an hour. I average about 2,000 words an hour over a large scale project.

One thing that is different about this book is that I expended a very large amount of time on the outline, both in up front effort and in ongoing tweaks once the project was underway. As it currently stands, the outline is about 120 pages long, totaling 28,400 words in its own right. I haven’t even accounted for all the time on the outline prior to 2011, as I’d been prethinking and making notes on Sunspin for several years prior to that.

Another thing that is different about this book is that I’ve greatly expanded the amount of time spent on revisions. For productivity planning purposes, I used to estimate 100 hours to write a 200,000 word first draft, and another 50 hours for revisions. In other words, revisions consumed 50% of the time that a first draft consumed. What has happened on Calamity is that revisions now consume 120% of the time that the first draft consumed.

Even in just drafting this blog post, I am surprised by these numbers. I hadn’t realized how much time I’d sunk into revisions. It’s not surprising in retrospect, as I added two major steps to my process as compared to prior books. But still… As for the outline, I’ve known all along that Sunspin has been requiring a radically different investment in that part of the process. And it has really paid off.

Both of these trends are almost certainly very good things. Is it taking me longer to write a book with the expanded prep time and the expanded revision time? Obviously. Considerably longer. But writing isn’t a horse race, and nobody gives out medals for being fast. Because I believe that by taking all this extra time both before and after executing the first draft, I’m writing a much, much better book.

Or at any rate, I really hope so. If I’m not improving, I’m doing it wrong.

First drafts have always been the most joyous part of the process for me. They still are. Discovering the story, seeing it unroll onto the page, is where I get my greatest writer yayas. All this time spent on the synopsis and the revision? That’s me maturing and developing as a writer. Giving you more reader yayas, ideally.

I’m already applying these expanded processes to both Little Dog: Son of a Bitch (co-authored under [info]bravado111‘s guidance) and to Their Currents Turn Awry. I haven’t yet seen validation from the market, the critics or the readers, but I really believe in these changes, and trust that others will, too. And as always, I’m looking forward to whatever happens next.

This is a fun, fun career.


Note: I know some people take considerable exception when I make these very metrics-driven process posts. Please understand that I use this kind of thinking in two places.

One, when I’m budgeting my writing time a year or two ahead, so I know what I can produce in what time frames.

Two, after the fact, when I’m looking to derive lessons learned from a project. As in this post right here.

When I’m actually doing the writing, in the flow, I barely think about this stuff at all. Story comes first, always. But in order to be a competent, deadline oriented professional, it’s important to me and my process to understand the underpinnings. Hence the quantitative analysis.

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[books|writing] Little Dog: Son of a Bitch

The synopsis for book one of Little Dog, Son of a Bitch, is about done in both long form (writing document) and short form (selling document). [info]bravado111 and I made good use of our hang time together this weekend for some story conferencing, as well some parallel play writing time.

I also churned out first draft one-sheets for books two and three, just to show series direction as part of the sales proposal package. They’re currently entitled Whelp, I Need Somebody and Littermates. After a few final touches today, the package is off our desks for a while, at least until our agents give us feedback on the synopsis and other materials.

The current production plan is for [info]bravado111 to write the first draft in May and/or June, and me to do the initial major revision pass in June and/or July. This schedule should survive even if I have to go back into cancer treatment, which means we’ll have the book to first readers by the end of July, if not a bit earlier. I am happy to jam this in around Sunspin, simply to get it going.

It’s nice to see a new project gathering steam.

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[writing] The state of play, updated once more

After correspondence with my agent yesterday, I can update the state of play on various projects.

Sunspin (four volume space opera): She really likes the revisions to volume one, Calamity of So Long a Life. I need to produce a short marketing-focused synopsis, about ten pages covering all four books, and she has suggested one more line editing pass for dropped words, et cetera. I’m feeling a little glassy-eyed about doing another line edit on the manuscript, but I probably ought to re-read it anyway in preparation for drafting the balance of Their Currents Turn Awry, which is my project for April and May. I only need another 100,000 or so words on that project to call it done in first draft, so it will fit nicely into that schedule. I expect to produce the synopsis over the next few days, and will come to grips with the line editing issue shortly thereafter.

Going to Extremes (nonfiction book about cancer, parenting and Antarctica): She is still reviewing the proposal, but likes it so far. We’re having a somewhat technical conversation now about cross-licensing and subrights and other nonfiction issues which are new territory to me. I won’t be doing any more new writing on this until she has given me full feedback on the proposal and we agree on what more we need to do for the submission package. I do feel some time pressure on this one, simply because of the timing of being able to make an Antarctic trip.

Little Dog (urban fantasy about a werewolf with achondroplastic dwarfism): Once [info]bravado111 and I wrap up the synopsis, which ought to be fairly soon, she will review it, as will his agent. At that point we’ll decide whether it makes more sense to go to market as a proposal, a partial or a full. Collaborator [info]bravado111 and I will be discussing the writing schedule today, actually, and working out between the two of us how to approach that question from our end.

Our Lady of the Islands (independent novel set in the Green universe): She wants to review this one more time, possibly have another revision round, then go to market, but not in the same immediate time as Sunspin. Since Calamity of So Long a Life will probably be going out in the next few weeks if not sooner, this means Our Lady can go out later this spring. Collaborator [info]calendula_witch and I are in agreement on this plan.

Short Fiction: I have now completed all requested short fiction due before the end of the summer. I need to send “The Cancer Catechism” into the requesting market, and later on in the year I have to write a Fathomless Abyss novella and a Cthulhu short. I have tentatively agreed to take on a couple of anthology invitations in June, when I have another month of Doing Miscellaneous Stuff on my writing calendar, but I don’t have guidelines for those yet. If you’re an editor and you’re expecting something from me that you suspect I’ve missed, please let me know.

Cancer: Of course, all of this is subject to change should next month’s re-tests show that my recently detected liver lesion is in fact a fourth round of cancer. I expect Sunspin to go forward mostly unaffected. Likewise Our Lady of the Islands. [info]bravado111 and I need to discuss a fallback plan for Little Dog if I get seriously sidelined, so status unknown there. Ironically, it’s Going to Extremes, the big, ambitious cancer book, that will likely be the most disrupted from a return of the cancer, simply because of timing. If I spend the second half of this year going through another round of chemo, there’s no way on God’s green Earth I’ll be fit to go to Antarctica during the southern summer of 2012/2013. Also, my short fiction and miscellaneous project work will fall off the table complete if cancer returns, as will most or all of my already limited convention and conference schedule.

A lot going on, and I like being this kind of busy. I just hate the uncertainty.

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[personal|travel] Home from Texas

I got home from Texas yesterday afternoon. Managed to jam in some good work on the Little Dog synopsis, including an audio readthrough. Also wrote a requested short called “The Cancer Catechism”. I may have overshot the mark a bit on that one, it’s a lot more intense than the market might be wanting. I guess I’ll find out when I send it in.

Yesterday when I posted about Tuesday’s open dinner, as my cousin N— reminded me, I totally forgot to talk about the funniest part. Shortly after we’d been seated, and a while before our party filled the table, people started coming up to us and asking if we were atheists. This happened three or four times in the space of fifteen minutes. We were absolutely baffled as to what was going on. It was hilarious.

Turns out the Atheist Meetup was happening that night at Threadgill’s, and we’d accidentally been given their usual table. The hostess had confused us with that group — I can’t imagine why.

Little Dog is now off for some expert reading on gender issues in the book. “The Cancer Catechism” is now off to my usual gang of first readers. And, erm, there’s this radio interview today.

What, me, busy?

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[personal] Walking and writing and working in Austin

Still in Austin. Spent part of yesterday working at Day Jobbery (a very rare weekend commitment), then with friends, then at dinner at the Hyde Park Bar and Grill. Mmm, one of my favorite restaurants. I used to live four blocks from there. Also got some more work done on Little Dog, as well as some critique for the Norwescon writers’ workshop forthcoming.

Walked this morning in downtown Austin, from my hotel by the Convention Center west on Sixth Street to well past Z Tejas and back. Along the way I passed the Hoffbrau House, Hut’s, Katz’s, Frank and Angie’s, Amy’s… I realized that my mental map of my old home town seems to be highly food oriented. I could spend a couple of weeks eating my way across Austin.

Today’s lunch break I’m hoping to catch with a friend, and I’m going to hit Chuy’s Hula Hut this evening. Mmm mmm. Should be able to get some editing time on Little Dog today as well. Tomorrow is iffier because apparently I am committed for 12 hours of Day Jobbery. That means even if I can squeeze out the time, I likely won’t have the energy. Plus tomorrow is the open dinner.

Back to Portland on Wednesday, to see [info]the_child give her presentation on her eight grade project.

See some, all or none of you around the River City here.

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[travel] Back in the Lone Star state

Yesterday I flew back to Austin. I slept a bunch on the first leg of the flight, but still managed to knock out worthwhile time on the Little Dog synopsis, plus catch up on my homework for teaching [info]the_child‘s class. After I arrived yesterday, @dratz and Mrs. @dratz drove me out to Driftwood, TX and the mighty Salt Lick BBQ. Pretty much my favorite bbq anywhere, ever. But my gosh, how the place has changed. It used to be pretty much a summer camp dining hall out in the woods of the Hill Country. Now it’s… huge…

But the food. Mmm mmm. If you’re an unreconstructed carnivore, this place is heaven.

IMG_2227

This morning I got up early (imagine that) and walked for an hour. The @dratz and Mrs. @dratzs live a few blocks from the house I owned when I lived here, so this is familiar territory. I walked down to the University of Texas campus and back. That would be my alma mater. While I had a pretty good time in college, I don’t tend to be afflicted with nostalgia for those days. Still, being on campus brought back a lot of memories. And I do miss Austin, a lot. I love Portland so much that the missing isn’t bitter, but maybe it’s a bit bittersweet.

Going to work on Little Dog for a while commencing shortly here. Breakfast this morning, probably at Waterloo Ice House, then I’m off to the trade show at noon. (I’m here for Day Jobbery.) Watch this space for confirming announcements about Tuesday’s open dinner.

It’s good to be back in Texas.


Photo © 2012, Joseph E. Lake, Jr.

Creative Commons License

This work by Joseph E. Lake, Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

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[travel] Off to Texas

Here’s me, off in the air again. Goals today: Get to Austin, read the student assignments from my guest teaching gig, work on Little Dog.

What you got going on?

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[writing] Productivity are us

I managed to knock out about three and a half hours of writing time yesterday. This in addition to Day Jobbery, lunch with my mother, dinner with H—, and helping [info]the_child with her homework.

The funny part about [info]the_child‘s homework was that she was working on the assignment I’d given her class. This is a flash fiction due tomorrow, when I return for my second guest teaching slot. A quirky dynamic was in play. (As I said privately to her mother, “Is this cheating?”) The story is really quite good, and I’ll probably post it here soon if she gives me permission.

On my own front, I got a (nearly) full draft of the Going to Extremes proposal into la agente. What I sent her was a bit more rough than my book proposals usually are, but book length nonfiction is new to me, so I wanted her feedback before I invested a bunch more time in it. I also reviewed [info]bravado111‘s annotations to the Little Dog proposal, which I’ll be further revising next, probably this afternoon after Day Jobbery. In addition to that, I did some leg work for the recent Oregonian interview, completed an online interview, revised and sent out that rush nonfiction assignment, and updated my marketing/productivity spreadsheet. Also finished reading [info]lizzyshannon‘s screenplay Blood of Orange and started the next portion of [info]kenscholes‘s novel-in-progress Requiem.

Today, Little Dog, unless life interferes or Fred calls a rest day.

Can haz busy nao?

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